Wednesday 18 December 2019

You are More than Your DNA

Some of the trans people and allies I follow on Twitter have been targeted for harassment by people with an inflated sense of their own importance who are on a mission to make everyone define gender by their terms.

Their terms are nebulous, depending on whether they want to acknowledge the existence of intersex people and how honest they are about the complexity of biology, but usually they boil down to DNA.  Specifically, chromosomes. Seriously, if someone’s Twitter handle is something like REALWomanXX, just block and run away.

The argument is that DNA is the “real” arbiter of sex, because it can’t be changed. Internal identity, the actual hormones in someone’s actual blood, even the genitals that the anti-trans crowd is usually so obsessed with, those can all be “faked” but DNA is “real.” (It’s also not true that DNA doesn’t change. Not that that nuance is captured in the middle school biology anti-trans bigots favor, because it’s not nearly simplistic enough.)

Setting aside the fact that the idea of DNA as an unchangeable blueprint is based on a false idea of DNA, this would be a completely backwards argument even if DNA were totally unchanging. The pattern or description that remains static while the object it describes changes isn’t some holy grail of eternal truth. It’s an outdated document that no longer reflects the as-built system.  I write technical documentation for a living, and if I were ever to say, “My docs are right, it’s the system that’s wrong,” I’d be laughed right  of the meeting.

As another example, architecturally, my house would be described as a ranch. It’s a long single-story rectangle with a low pitched roof. Presumably, somewhere there’s a blueprint that shows this layout in detail.

But, let’s say I won Powerball and did massive renovations, turning it into a completely different style.  I’m a big fan of Victorian houses, so let’s say I turn my ranch into a Queen Anne Revival. I add a second story and a gabled roof, a massive porch with columns, and a tower. I replace the vinyl siding with wood siding painted in bright Victorian colors. The whole thing is intricately ornamented.

If I’m then giving directions to my house and say, “It’s a two-story Victorian house, and it’s dark green,” no reasonable person would brandish the original blueprints in my face and insist that my house was *really* a ranch.

That’s not to say, of course, that trans people  need to have any particular surgeries or take any particular hormones for their identities to be valid. It’s just to point out the absurdity of any kind of “DNA essentialism.”

Architectural styles have some complexity and nuance, of course.  A house doesn’t necessarily have to have every single element of a style in order to be an example of that style, and there can be variations within that style.  If you add onto a ranch or pull design elements off a Queen Anne, there will be debate about what style the newly remodeled house is.

Human biology has even more complexity and nuance than architecture. Lots of people with XY chromosomes have penises & testes. Some people with XY chromosomes, however, have vaginas and uterii.  Some of those have even given birth (some with the aid of fertility treatments, others without).  It’s not really certain how common it is for people to have the “wrong” chromosomes (that is, ones that don’t match their primary and secondary sex characteristics) because people generally don’t get their chromosomes tested unless they’re already having issues of some sort.

Almost everything we learn in school about human biology should really be preceded by “usually.” *Usually* these chromosomes and these body parts go together, but not always. Add in psychology, and it gets even more complicated, because identity doesn’t reside in your DNA.



via Kelly Thinks Too Much